Guest column/We often find that we can’t avoid our personal hell
“Hell is other people.”
– “No Exit,” Jean-Paul Sartre
In March 1931 in Scottsboro, Ala., nine black boys were accused of raping two white girls on a freight train inside a boxcar while hoboing across Alabama seeking work when caught up on the crucifer of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Accusations by two white girls of having been raped by nine black boys struck a strident chord heard loudly across white America. The Klan burned black homes -reports of a black male, castrated, his body hanged, then burned. The jail where the boys were being held had to be guarded from lynch mobs by government troops.
The boys said the girls had consented to sex. The prosecutor said that there was no such thing as two white girls consenting to sex with nine black boys. The boys were found guilty by prosecutorial overreach and judicial meddling. The boys were condemned to death. The electric chair awaited them.
Now came and entered on the boys’ behalf the New York City branch of the Communist Party. In 1935, the boys’ death sentences were overturned and they were re-sentenced to natural life. Today, that’s life without parole.
In 1936, a young lawyer from Brooklyn took the boys’ cause, believing he could free the boys. His name was Sam Leibowitz. He freed the boys. Leibowitz became world famous. So did the Scottsboro boys. It was fame that freed them.
The Steubenville boys are now famous. Or lost?
One of the Scottsboro girls, when death appeared on the still of the evening, confessed she hadn’t been raped. She said she wanted to get right with God, claiming to have been deceived by Satan.
In the book of Job, God asked Satan, who’d been on a millennial journey, where he had been. Satan replied, “I’ve been up and down and to and fro in the Earth.”
Satan, as always, had done his job, appearing among us to excise the moral realm from human existence, excise it into eternity, reshape every being into his own misbegotten image, as Satan had done with the Scottsboro confessor.
A confession from an aged woman who’s suffused with guilt and grief fell on God’s deaf ears; for she could not reach the ears of God when Satan had denied her her soul’s inheritance. The confessor went along with the system and not God. Her confession was nothing more than a religious escape hatch to appease God when on her way out of this world.
Be that as it may, I find it passing strange that when we have passing preconceptions only and not facts, we ignore the facts rather than change our preconceptions. Uncharacteristically I, like the rhapsodized crowd, fell into that same swoon when social media (what a misnomer) spun sensational tales of run-a-muck rape while in the act of kidnapping by force.
Imagine, is not such a sanguine portraiture of Neanderthalensis Erectus playing football?
In contradistinction, the entire case now is without a redeeming character. Everything I have heard from each opposite official in our town was nothing more than personal talking points. Hence, I am waiting to hear from Jefferson County Prosecutor’s Office and its talking points, especially why the office attempted, but failed, to try mere boys as adults. To destroy their lives, forever? The upshot is that I find this to be self-serving politics in score and draconian in reach. Political and legal mendacity is the system we live in and rely upon.
The plaintiff and the law said that Jane Doe had been raped.
Videos were taken; the girl was in the buff, disrobed. Did she disrobe herself before passing out, or was she forcibly disrobed then dragooned into sexual allotments. (Were any other girls present at the party or only Jane Doe?)
For all intents and purposes, I’m not comparing the Steubenville boys with the Scottsboro boys, save that social media of our day, especially the Internet, can be compared to the lynch mob-mentality and feeding frenzy of the media of yesteryear.
Those directly involved in the cause of the case will find their personal hell intertwined with others involved. Personal hells, inevitably, last a lifetime.
“Since hell is other people, so what’s up now, folks in our town? Pray tell me, what exit?”
(Baker is a resident of Steubenville.)